The Simpsons Tapped Out: Why EA doesn’t need new ip

In last Tuesday’s quarterly earnings report, EA touted the success of the freemium Simpson’s Tapped Out for iOS as one of the stand out successes of the past few months. EA’s Frank Gibeau was quoted as saying “another breakout hit in the fiscal quarter was The Simpsons: Tapped Out, a free-to-play mobile title which launched in August and was the #1 grossing game on iOS for most of the last 4 weeks” (via Games Industry International). 

Just how successful was the title? Using the numbers for top grossing iOS titles I reverse engineered from Supercell’s recent success, I estimate Tapped Out has generated $29.6 million in sales for EA. $20.7 million after Apple takes its cut. This represents 6.6% of EA’s reported $314 million in digital revenue for the quarter.

I have no idea what Tapped Out’s budget was, but I can guarantee a very healthy return on investment for the title, even considering that it has to shoulder some portion of a licensing deal to use The Simpsons’ brand. No doubt it is a mere sliver compared to the cost of the critical (and probable commercial) failure, Medal of Honor: Warfighter.

By my count, EA has developed or published 35 new IPs this console generation with one more on it’s way courtesy of Insomniac’s Fuse (console, handheld and PC). Hundreds of other games were released in existing brands like Battlefield and Need for Speed and licensed brands like Madden, Lord of the Rings and The Simpsons.

In September, Gibeau told Games Industry International “right now, we’re working on 3 to 5 new IPs for the next gen.” Of those games, I only know that a new IP from Mass Effect Executive Producer Casey Hudson has been teased publicly.

EA’s stated strategy is fewer, bigger brands. Of the many new IPs developed for this generation, only Army of Two, Dead Space and Dragon Age continue to see new versions. As far as I can tell from publicly facing information, creating innovative, new IPs just isn’t a priority for the organization.

Which brings us back to The Simpsons: Tapped Out and its $20.7 million in gross revenue since releasing in August. Big brands + big marketing budget + high production values = $$$. This is the EA formula. They may have been late to the mobile & tablet freemium party, but now that they are here they will outcompete the Dragon Vales and Tiny Monsters of the world. This formula may have finally run its course in the core space, where 80+ rated Lord of the Rings, James Bond and Godfather games have all fallen out of favor with gamers’ wallets.

But as Tapped Out proves, the players who enjoy the games produced by this formula have simply moved to another platform. EA’s digital future has less to do with big, risky new IPs like Mirror’s Edge or Brutal Legend and much more to do with the huge return on investment proven by The Simpsons’ $20.7 million breakout success.

19 new IPs developed by EA this generation: Army of Two, Boogie, Boom Blox, Create, Dante’s Inferno, Dead Space, Dragon Age, EA Playground, EA Sports Active, Facebreaker, Grand Slam Tennis, Henry Hatsworth, Mirror’s Edge, Ninja Reflex, Saboteur, Skate, Smarty Pants, Spore, Zubo.

16 new IPs published by EA this generation: Brutal Legend, Bulletstorm, Crysis, Death Spank, Gatling Gears, Hellgate: London, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Left 4 Dead, Orcs & Elves, Portal 2, Rock Band, Shadows of the Damned, Shank, Spare Parts, The Secret World, Warp.